Dan Szymborski released his annual ZiPS Projections for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and with it he is predicting an 81-81 record for the south siders. While this would be a five win improvement from last year, a .500 record would have kept the White Sox in fourth in the AL Central division and five games away from a wildcard in the American League.
Position Player Takeaways
The five win jump that Szymborski predicts can be simply accredited to Todd Frazier being predicted as a 3.7 zWAR player, good for tops of all White Sox position players. The jump from Conor Gillaspie, 2015’s starting third baseman, who accumulated a -1.1 fWAR last year for the White Sox would get you very near five wins. Frazier is predicted to be almost a four win player despite being projected to get ten fewer home runs than last year and 13 fewer doubles. His slugging percentage is also projected to drop a full half point. While the Great American Ballpark is seen as a bandbox, US Cellular Field is not too far behind. A ten home run drop would be alarming and is thus one of the more eye-catching figures in the entire projection.
The middle infielder projections are interesting with the fact that they project that Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez will be a platoon. The numbers show over 450 plate appearances for all three. Injuries are a part of these projections and could account for the time splits. Defense was a large issue for the 2015 White Sox. Early on in the season, the middle infield combo of Micah Johnson and Alexei Ramirez were downright atrocious. The projections love Saladino and Sanchez’s defense and those projections raise both of their zWAR values.
I suppose it is possible that any of these players could be used as a designated hitter because the projections show right around the same amount of plate appearances for Adam LaRoche, who spent time on the disabled list last season. Whether the projections account for another injury or a performance-based drop, someone will have to make up for those at-bats in the DH role.
The biggest statement the projections make is that Avisail Garcia will be making 100 fewer plate appearances and Melky Cabrera will be making 87 fewer. It looks like J.B. Shuck will be making up the difference. Shuck looks to be having a much bigger role for the 2016 team, but of course the projection system can’t take in any new outfield acquisitions which might still take place. The projections like Shuck’s defense a lot more than Garcia or Cabrera’s defense. Shuck is an admirable player, and a great pinch-hitter, but maybe if the White Sox front office took a look at these predictions, they would be fully motivated to find that illusive outfielder the team seems desperate for.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but these projections really like Chris Sale. While they have Sale’s strikeouts dropping, his ERA+ rises 24 points, good for second highest rise on the team. Jose Quintana takes a small dip from last year’s numbers but Carlos Rodon’s numbers project to be a little bit better, thus still giving the White Sox a very good top three in the rotation.
The bottom portion of the rotation doesn’t fair as well in the projections as Erik Johnson and John Danks both have over a 4.5 ERA and FIP. The system does have them getting close to 30 starts each and must believe that the team training staff will again provide a healthy, consistent pitching staff.
The bullpen remains a strong entity and the system believes that David Robertson will right his inconsistent season from 2015. Robertson projects to have a rise in ERA+ of 30 and repeat his 60 appearance season from last year. Zach Putnam and Nate Jones, both potential set-up men, see a nice bump in most statistics including a big drop in home run rate from Jones.
The projection’s biggest dropper is the recently re-signed Matt Albers, but his 2015 season was almost too good to be true and it would be difficult to project a repeat. The numbers aren’t awful but no one was predicting the 1.21 ERA that Albers gave last season.
Not many prognosticators have the White Sox in the playoffs this season and looking at the numbers it is hard to disagree. The team improved their offense, should see improvement in their defense and is more than likely to continue to have a strong pitching staff. When Szymborski was interviewed by Comcast Sports Net reporter Dan Hayes, seen here at http://www.csnchicago.com/white-sox/analysts-think-white-sox-ready-compete-2016, he stated that the team is capable of getting that win total up to 85 games. Szymborski also repeated the oft mentioned phrase of this offseason – they need one more piece. It will be February on Monday and those pieces keep falling – to other teams. There are a few gaping holes remaining on this team, but even one more piece has the potential of filling a few holes by use of position flexibility. These projections don’t try to predict if the White Sox will make that one last move, but with the team as is, they have the White Sox as a pretender.